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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Correct Grammar for Quotation Marks When Writing Dialogue

   
Author Topic: Correct Grammar for Quotation Marks When Writing Dialogue
Magic Beans
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Kind souls here have reviewed my work beyond the first thirteen lines. A couple times, I have received comments in my text indicating the reviewer didn't understand who was speaking. What I realized was that, though well-meaning, the reviewer did not understand correct grammar regarding dialogue that is longer than a single paragraph. If you were one of these few people, please take no offense. Since we all want to be better writers, we cannot be ignorant of correct grammar when writing dialogue.

quote:
If one person's speech goes on for more than one paragraph, use quotation marks to open the speech and at the beginning--but not the end--of each new paragraph in the speech. To close the speech, use quotation marks at the end of the final paragraph.

From: Purdue's Online Writing Lab


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dspellweaver
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Cool. I was looking for the answer to this question and tada here it is. I can always count on Hatrack
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Christine
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As seldom as it comes up I did know that but thanks for posting it I can see where many would miss that finer point.
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dpatridge
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yeah, i knew about that too, don't usually have a problem with it, because i like to make speaches more dynamic and there is rarely one uninterrupted speaker for more than a paragraph.

*shrug*

guess i never really thought that it was an important thing to worry about

hey, btw, i'd like to see an example of where you have a single uninterrupted speaker for more than a paragraph... could you send me something? i'm thinking about making some long winded characters in my wip that no one bothers to interrupt, but i don't know how to go about it without it coming out dry and monotonous, i want a long winded person, not a person who preserves wind even while going through a long oration :P


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Magic Beans
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Here's an example from my WIP's prologue that will probably not survive in its current form, so I'll post a little of it here. The same character speaks all paragraghs:

quote:
“Forever have you and I, hidden from humans, ruled our peoples. And yet, without that vital connection to the earth plane, our worlds wither and die. As the Deep'ning now waxes strong, and gathers power from the earth plane, so does the Eternal Grove weaken and wane.

“And so it is once again you that has o’ertipped the Balance. Now must I fight for my domain and for the hearts of humans, which harden and turn from the High Ways. They see not the diminishment of their own world.

“Will you not stay your hand, that we both may live in Balance with the power that sustains our two realms? Stay your hand now, keep what you have, or risk war. This I beg of you.”


I didn't really expect much by way of replies to this topic. It was more of a FYI thing.


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Shanu
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It's also worth noting that convention seems to vary about exactly what to use to indicate dialogue...

'It could be these inverted commas, of course,' said Ender.

"Well, yes," replied Bean, "but it could equally be these quotation marks."

It doesn't even seem to be defined by which side of the pond you're on... I've seen English and American (and Scottish, Canadian, Irish, and other English speaking nationalities) writers use both. If you see what I mean. Apologies. My sentence structure is shocking today. I haven't finished my coffee yet.


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Survivor
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I invariably nit writers for unbroken monologues like this. It isn't a good storytelling device.

The issue with confusion of who is speaking is pretty minor, usually as long as what's after a paragraph break doesn't sound like a response to what came before, nobody will be confused. But it is also true (in my case) that if you do something as utterly wrong as using a monologue I won't really expect you to punctuate it correctly.


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MaryRobinette
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Survivor, be fair. It's no good to just say 'That's not a good story-telling device.' without explaining why you think so.

I know people whose standard form of conversation is the monologue. Speaking for paragraphs at a time happens frequently in real life, the main difference is that in real life we are paying attention to the body language, our own thoughts get distracted, we notice the room around us. In fiction, if a monologue is not broken up with description then I, as a reader, will do these same things, but noticing details of the room I'm reading in takes me outside the story.

The best monologues I've read have kept the POV character alive around the spoken word. It's not the monologue that's at issue, its the amount of focus that is placed on it. If the monologue is a story within a story, then breaking it up would be more jarring than letting it play through. On the other hand, if it's a character who rambles, breaking it up with the non-verbal reactions of my POV character will highlight the rambling.

[This message has been edited by MaryRobinette (edited November 07, 2004).]


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Christine
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Actually, *GASP* I agree with survivor.

I'm not saying there's not the odd exception but generally if I find myself writing a monologue (defined arbitrarily in this case as any speech that takes more than a paragraph to write.) I do something, *anything* to break it up. First, let's go to reasons:

1. Long speeches in novels, however realistic they are in real life or however plausible in movies, are awkward in novels. All you have is someone speaking, and meanwhile you're losing all the other things that make a story rich like description, action, character thoughts, etc. For a long time, you have nothing but speech, and speech without inflection, tone, or even an emotional interpretation. I know that often tone and voice and those things we are attempted to use -ly words to describe can be insinuated through word choice, but over a long monologue you are more hard pressed to do so than ever.

2. It's weird. It happens so seldom in books and stories that it even becomes a matter of temporary confusion to the reader as to who's speaking. If you get the punctuation right, they will eventually figure it out, but a small thing like a closing quotation mark missing is something our brains can easily skip over because we see it there 99 times out of 100 and we assume it's there the hundredth time.

Those things mentioned in point #1 are bigger and more important, but just thought I'd cover bases. I'm not saying there's never a time for a monologue, and a character telling a story such as Mary pointed out is one of the few times I have ever used it, but even then you need to be careful. I just found this happening in my NaNoWriMo novel, a character telling a story that went over multiple paragraphs. So I considered the story. First, it was not dramatic or important enough to make it a chapter of its own. (Although I may change my mind in the rewrite.) If it's long enough, I always like the idea of setting up a story but then putting a flashback in its own chapter.

In my case, I had two characters telling the story, so I had them take cues from one another and pick up and leave off the story where the other character knew best what was happening, but even then it wasn't enough. I still had a couple of short spots where the story just went over a paragraph. So I did two things: First, I inserted some (hopefully) unobtrustive physical description, things the speaker was doing that might add weight to the emotion she was feeling while speaking. Not a description of the room or anything silly like that, but relevant nonverbal cues that we would normally see and register. Second, I inserted quick POV character thoughts (the POV character was not the one telling the story). All this information was knew to her and relevant to her life...how did it make her feel and what was she thinking? A quick one or two sentences between otherwise uninterrupted paragraphs of monologue and it keeps the reader remembering whose story this is and keeps them thinking of this story through their eyes as opposed to their own, which is likely to happen when you drift away from them for a monologue.

I'm done now.


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Magic Beans
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Flip through your own books. If you have any staples of sf/f, you will find examples. I can give you two, one from each genre, off the top of my head: the "Council of Elrond" chapter in Fellowship, and in Asimov's Foundation. Awkward? I think not.

Paragraphs can be short. A character speaking for more than one is NOT a monologue. Look up the definition of monologue if you doubt me.

Dialogue is difficult enough to write, but conversations and discussions are even more difficult, because the characters must do more than trade quips or spout techno-military jargon at each other. They must speak substantially and substantively. Novice writers are--rightly so--simply afraid to tackle it. But they must if their dialogue writing skills are to ever advance.

Sometimes we have get out of the way and let the characters speak for themselves. They'll do it if we let them. We will only ruin things by attempting to insert too many "writerly" devices into an otherwise perfectly good bit of dialogue.

Your readers don't need as much help as you think in order to follow a lengthy conversation between your characters. Someone is speaking, and the readers are "listening" to the character and actually may not enjoy being distracted by our attempts at being a writer, thrown out like a spike strip. Now, a small bit here to offer an arching of an eyebrow, or a small bit there to sip from a wine glass does not mean that characters will not or should not speak over more than one paragraph. There is no legitimate reason to avoid it, and good reason to seek to do it properly. Our dialogue will otherwise be too limited, too one-dimensional, too adolescent.

[This message has been edited by Magic Beans (edited November 07, 2004).]

[This message has been edited by Magic Beans (edited November 07, 2004).]


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Christine
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I don't recall saying it *never* happened nor that it was *always* bad, I gave warning to be careful with it, and that's an entirely different thing. I don't need to go look up passages in books. But I stand by what I said.
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Jules
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Shanu:

The way I understand this, is that the American convention is to _always_ use double quotation marks ('"'), whereas the British convention is somewhat convoluted: Double quotation marks are used in journalism and educational books, and single quotation marks ("'") are used in most fiction. Some publishers when republishing books first published in America will change the quotation mark style, and others won't.

My last manuscript, I used single marks for dialogue. I have since decided that this is a bad idea, as it is the same character as the apostrophe, and so I cannot use search and replace to change them. In future, I'm using double quotation marks in all my manuscripts, and will search & replace to change them to single when submitting to publishers that seem to prefer single.


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dspellweaver
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I try not to post to this forum but I decided to add my two cents, anyways.

As long as the dialogue is interesting and relevant, I don't really see a problem. It's not what you write but how well you write it that counts and that goes for pretty much every technique there is in writing.

People who read quite a bit will, usually, have already come across this issue and will recognize it for what it is. If they get confused, most people will reread the section to clear up their confusion before throwing the book down in disgust.

I, personally, like the uninterrupted dialogue when it comes to important information. I find the breaks for 'he said, his expression wry' or 'he lit the fireplace before continuing' types of things are distracting and I will skip over them sometimes. However, my tolerance for uninterrupted dialogue is about two to three paragraphs. Any more than that and I start to get bored.


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Survivor
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Just by the by, the "Council of Elrond" is full of "reaction shots" and all the speakers are employing "narrative prose". Asimov is hailed as a great idea writer, but I've never been impressed enough by his ideas to overlook his deficiencies in other areas.

That said, I've seen some good stories that were told using long monologues in some places, and I can tell you unequivocally that in every single case it would have been an improvement if the monologues had been broken up somehow (this includes "trascript" stories, where the story is formated as a simple transcript of spoken dialogue--these work best if the dialogue avoids monologue, in cases where the story can't avoid monologue it is usually a poor choice to use the "transcript" format).

Christine is probably right to say it isn't *always* bad, but it is always less good than it could easily be. And in the interests of being good, I give no reasons other than my personal experience, that in every case of long monologue I've ever encountered in written literature, it helps to break it up somehow.


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dpatridge
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what if one has in a story a character who is quoting a passage?

it is my understanding that you are supposed to use double quotes for the character, and then single quotes for the passage the character is quoting... am i correct? cuz i have an example of this in my WIP


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Silver3
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I agree with Magic Beans: the fact that you need to break up a discourse into small bits doesn't necessarily mean it's a monologue.
The paragraphs don't need to be very long, and you can still have several of them without a change of speaker; it doesn't make it a monologue.

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Magic Beans
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dpartridge, that is correct.
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Survivor
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Even so, if you have reason enough for a paragraph break, then you have ample reason for a break in the direct quotation. This is always true except in "transcript" narrative (which can be effectively used in a variety of situations, but is best when there is true dialogue involved).

The point is that even though I'm well aware of the punctuation convention that is the topic of this thread, my general recommendation for fiction (and most non-fiction) is that you simply avoid situations where this punctuation becomes necessary. Not because the punctuation itself is unclear or somehow wrong, but because the situation that requires it has never been artistically justified in any case I've ever encountered.

Yes, my own limited experience. But I have yet to see an example of a fiction piece (I have seen justified examples in non-fiction, where artistic considerations must be subordinate to other concerns) where allowing a multi-paragraph quote by a single character is a good idea.


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Shanu
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Jules:

I think you're probably right. It also seems, though, that there is little consistency on this matter - presumably it's already such a mess that no-one can really fix it! In the past I've found US authors using both, and UK authors using both, not to mention authors from other countries.

I think my personal habit at the moment is to use the single quotation mark / inverted comma, although I think your reasons for using quotation marks are good ones. I could change, as I've used both in the past (making the situation even more confusing!).


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TheoPhileo
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I have actually set a style rule for myself never to have dialogue go on for more than one paragraph uninterrupted. In part because this does confuse an uninformed--or just speedy--reader. But mainly because what keeps a reader reading is not what someone says, but how that something makes the POV character feel. I always try to break up straight dialogue with something going on on the inside, or gestures that convey those thoughts.

Of course, now that I've said this, I'm sure I'll be stuck with some situation that just *necessitates* long explanatory dialogue without interruption.

"Unable to feel anything because of the mind-numbing dumb-o-tron, Stacy stared mindlessly at the professor as he explained his theory on the influence of bubble gum on space-time..."


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Survivor
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Robyn_Hood
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Personally, I've a read a lot of fiction where dialogue from one character is carried over multiple paragraphs. It doesn't bother me one bit and only seldom am I remotely confused by. I would rather see the thoughts broken up properly rather than try reading through a run-on paragraph.

If you are writing dialogue it does not mean you should abandon proper writing form and put everything that one person has to say into one paragraph just because. If you would normally insert a paragraph break, then insert it.

That said, the onus is on the author to make sure that it remains clear that the speaker has not changed. The few times I have become confused is usually because the author neglects to properly identify the other speaker when they finally do speak, or because they lose the character's voice and simply go into a preachy rant.

My 2¢.


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